Police Kill Black People, Get Rewarded

Rekia Boyd, Eric Harris, Natasha McKenna, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray. Just some of the recent names in the scourge of black people who are killed every 28 hours by police in the U.S. And, each time police kill black people, it seems they are rewarded. The policeman who shot Michael Brown became a millionaire because of the crowdfunded support he received.  The prosecutor, Daniel Donovan, who failed to indict any of the officers who killed Eric Garner has recently been tapped by the Staten Island GOP to run for a plum senate seat.

Rekia Boyd

  • Rekia Boyd.After midnight, on March 21, 2012, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd was hanging out with friends in a Chicago park. Dante Servin, an off-duty cop who lived nearby, called to report a loud party in a park near his home. He left his home to get food, armed with an unregistered semiautomatic handgun, and got into an altercation with the group of people hanging out. He fired several shots, one struck a young man in the arm, another shot struck Boyd, who was unarmed, in the head. She was taken to the hospital where she later died. On April 20, 2015 a Cook County judge acquitted Servin (who is white/Hispanic) of several homicide-related charges. It was the first time in 15 years that a police officer had been charged in Chicago for a fatal shooting.

 

Eric Harris and his brother Andre

Eric Harris (right) with his brother Andre.

 

(Image source: © Courtesy of Andre Harris/Smolen, Smolen & Roytman, PLLC via BCN)

  • Eric Harris. Harris is the 44-year-old man in Tulsa, Oklahoma who was shot and killed April 2. Video footage from the scene, captures Harris saying, “I’m losing my breath…” and an officer can be plainly heard telling him “Fuck your breath.” The 73-year-old volunteer sheriff’s deputy who shot Harris – saying he mistook his gun for his taser – is taking a vacation in the Bahamas ahead of his court date for manslaughter.

Natasha McKenna

 

  • Natasha McKenna. McKenna, 37, of Fairfax, Virginia, was diagnosed with schizophrenia.She had been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment and was subsequently charged with felony assault for allegedly punching an officer in January, 2015. On February 3, 2015, McKenna was scheduled to be transferred to another location for a hearing. Then, according to published reports, this is what happened next:  McKenna initially cooperated with deputies, placed her hands through her cell door food slot and agreed to be handcuffed, the reports show. But McKenna, whose deteriorating mental state had caused Fairfax to seek help for her, then began trying to fight her way out of the cuffs, repeatedly screaming, “You promised you wouldn’t hurt me!” the reports show.Then, six members of the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, dressed in white full-body biohazard suits and gas masks, arrived and placed a wildly struggling 130-pound McKenna into full restraints, their reports state. But when McKenna wouldn’t bend her knees so she could be placed into a wheeled restraint chair, a lieutenant delivered four 50,000-volt shocks from the Taser, enabling the other deputies to strap her into the chair….

The multiple, high-voltage shocks killed Natasha McKenna, who was shackled and masked and weighed all of 130-pounds. No actions have been taken against any of the six people in Virginia who were involved in her death, nor against the manufacturer of the Taser. In another case in which an officer tasered a woman to death, the officer was cleared of all charges.

Walter Scott, Coast Guard veteran

Walter Scott, Coast Guard veteran

  • Walter Scott. Walter Scott, 50-years-old, father of four children, studying massage therapy while working as a forklift operator, and a Coast Guard veteran had recently become engaged to his longtime girlfriend, when he was stopped for a broken tail light on his car.  The routine traffic stop on April 5 in No. Charleston, South Carolina turned into a deadly shooting when officer Michael Slaeger opened fire on Scott who fled the scene because of a bench warrant for failure to pay child support (see this for more on this vicious cycle of failure-to-pay and job-loss). After a citizen-video emerged of the shooting, Slaeger was fired and charged with murder. The reward here was more immediate and visceral for Slaeger, who in an audio recording describes the “adrenaline pumping” from the shooting. This is similar to the research that Scully & Marolla did with convicted rapists, asking them why they raped; for some, it was simply for the “thrill” or the adrenaline rush.
Freddie Gray

Freddie Gray

  • Freddie Gray. We don’t know much yet about Freddie Gray, except that he was 25-years-old, African American, lived in Baltimore, and now he is dead after an encounter with Baltimore PD. He died Sunday, April 19, after being taken into police custody. It’s still not clear what he was charged with or what happened after his arrest, but a picture is beginning to emerge. Again, citizen-capture cellphone video is helping to build a record of what happened at the scene. Initial video shows Gray shouting and moving his head as he was carried into a police van. Later, he had three broken vertebrae. Gray lapsed into a coma, was resuscitated, underwent extensive surgery and eventually died. Protests surrounding Gray’s death have begun in Baltimore and six officers involved in this case have been suspended, with pay. So, that’s like early retirement, I guess.

This litany of names-become-hashtags is a recitation of black bodies sacrificed at the altar of white supremacy. As Steven Thrasher points out, while it is hard for black people to breathe these days, yet for those who do the policing, they are breathing quite easily.

"I Can Breathe" T-shirts at Pro-Police Rally -  by Steven Thrasher

“I Can Breathe” T-shirts at Pro-Police Rally – by Steven Thrasher

This is what white supremacy looks like in practice: the routine, systematic killing of black people and a reward system for those who do the killing. More diversity in police forces will not fix this. More cameras-on-cops will not fix this. More black elected officials, as in Baltimore, will not fix this.

The only thing that will fix this is to work on dismantling a system of white supremacy that rewards the killing of black people with freedom from consequences, keeping your job, getting promoted to senator, million-dollar crowd-funded jackpots, paid suspensions, vacations to the Bahamas, and adrenaline rushes. As Toni Morrison observes, “the hostility, the racism — is the money-maker. And it also has some emotional satisfaction for people who need it.”

Until we can disrupt that connection between the hostility and the reward, we will continue to recite this litany of names-become-hashtags.

Cecil Rhodes and Mohandes Gandhi in South Africa

The statue of Cecil Rhodes was removed after 81 years. A few days later, a statue of Mohandes Gandhi was vandalized. What can these two events tell us?

It was Rhodes who funded the racist establishment of white minority rule in the South African region. When I read that the statue of Cecil Rhodes had been removed from its plinth at the University of Cape Town after being smeared with shit, I recalled the TV miniseries (1996) that captured the life and legend of the establishment man. I saw each glamorized episode of the mini-series on PBS; I cannot remember the fine details now.

(Image credit: Mike Hutchings/Reuters via The Guardian)

Four days after Rhodes’s statue was removed, Gandhi’s statue in Johannesburg was also vandalized. Gandhi is “the hero of anti-colonial rule”; the role model for Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. But the vandalism of Gandhi’s statue has unveiled again uncomfortable truths about Mahatma. I saw the gripping movie about his life starring Ben Kingsley on the big screen; I cannot remember the details now.

(Image source)

The wikipedia version of the Gandhi legend acknowledges that he shared racist views “prevalent of the times and that his experiences in jail sensitized him to the plight of South Africa’s indigenous peoples.” So, Gandhi’s racist views in his early years and segregationist ideas when he was in South Africa are not in dispute. The Encyclopedia Britannica says this about Gandhi’s sojourn in South Africa: “What he did to South Africa was indeed less important than what South Africa did to him.”

In 1993, at the unveiling of the Gandhi statue, Mandela gave a speech praising Gandhi. Mandela reportedly said: “This event is also very significant because we are unveiling here the very first statue of an anti-colonial figure and a hero of millions of people worldwide. Gandhiji influenced the activities of liberation movements.”

Cecil Rhodes was perhaps 40 years old when Gandhi, aged 24, arrived in Natal. By then Cecil Rhodes was a very wealthy man, well on his way to becoming the establishment man for minority rule in the region. The racist superstructure of British and Afrikaner colonial rule was under construction. This was the superstructure of racism that erected Apartheid.

The official legacy of Gandhi is the struggle for freedom. But I am nonplussed by the meaning of the vandalism of Gandhi‘s statue. Is it all forgiven, the virulent racist writings of the young Gandhi? Or does it even matter anymore?

Timeline: Terror from the Right Since Oklahoma City Bombing

Today marks the twentieth year since the April 19 bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City by white supremacists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nicholas, in which 168 people were killed and dozens more were injured.

Since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, there have been many more terrorist plots, seditious conspiracies, individual killings and murder sprees. This timeline, compiled from SPLC data, offers an overview.

Yet, despite this record of right-wing violence, there is still a tendency to dismiss and ignore the threat of right-wing extremism in the US.

Fight for $15 is Fight for Racial Justice

Yesterday, people around the U.S. took to the streets to demand $15 an hour wages and a union for fast food workers. This struggle is a fight for racial justice.

Fight-15-Protest-NYC-4

(Protestors in New York – Image from Democracy Now)

A truly multi-racial and multi-ethnic movement, this mobilization of low-wage workers that began with fast-food workers in New York in November 2012.

Why is the fight for $15 a fight for racial justice? Some of the reasons that the Black Youth Project 100 lists include:

  • Black folks make up only 11.4% of the national employed population in 2014, but we made up 20.5% of fast food workers.
  • 46% of Chicago’s Black workers are in low-wage jobs.
  • 1/2 of all Black workers in New York City are low wage workers
  • A $15 per hour Chicago minimum wage would give a raise to an estimated 510,000 workers representing 38 percent of Chicago’s workforce.
  • 1/2 of all low wage workers in NYC are Women

This 2013 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) finds that nearly 20% of all fast-food workers are Latino/a. Looking at fast-food workers as a whole, the majority (53%) are more than 21 years old, with a high school diploma – contradicting the notion that these are “jobs for teens, who only want to work part-time”. In fact, fast-food workers are adults, trying to support themselves and their families on poverty wages.  The overwhelming majority of fast-food workers in the U.S. — a staggering 68% — are earning between $7.26-$10.09. These are wages that guarantee you remain in poverty even if you’re working full-time.

These poverty wages are what support huge profits at franchises and corporations like McDonald’s and Burger King. So, it’s perhaps not surprising that one of the big opponents of the Fight for $15 is the International Franchise Association, the world’s largest organization representing franchise owners, which calls the protests “a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign”.

Reports are that some 60,000 workers took part in the Fight for $15 demonstrations in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Los Angeles and more than 200 cities across the US. While the Fight for $15 movement started with fast-food workers and a one-day strike by about 200 or so cooks and order-takers in NYC, that galvanized other people into a broad movement of low-wage workers around the U.S.

Chicago Protestors

(Chicago Protestors – September, 2014 – Image source)

 

“This is the whole civil rights movement all over again,” says Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Professor Chaison (quoted in The Guardian), says:

“What is really significant about the Fight for $15 movement is – most labor disputes, look inside, they’re about a group of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement. In the Fight for $15, unions are helping to organize on a community basis, a group of workers who are on the fringe of the economy. It’s not about union members protecting themselves. It’s about moving other people up. This is the whole civil rights movement all over again.”

If you’d like to take some action to support the Fight for $15, visit the organizers’ website.

Racial Justice After Obama

In response to my post about Hillary Rodham Clinton the other day, several people — including Rebecca Spiff, in comments here — wrote to remind me that President Obama has been pretty terrible on a number of racial justice issues. Fair enough. I thought it was worth taking a look at some of what Obama’s done and what the landscape of racial justice looks like as he leaves office.

GTY_president_obama_jef_140910_16x9_992

 

From my perspective, I’d chalk up these in the category of “accomplishments” toward racial justice for Obama:

  • Symbolic Barrier Busted. Until Barack Obama was elected president, it was merely a theoretical idea that a black person could be president of the United States. It’s hard to know how to measure the impact of this on the world, it could be that it has an aspirational effect (also difficult to measure).
  • Aspirational. For young people born after 2007 or so, a black president is all they have ever known of the U.S. Perhaps this will aspire one young African American, like Marquis Govan – the inspiring 11 year old from Ferguson, Missouri –  to run for the highest office in the land.
  • Speeches. President Obama has given some amazing speeches, a few of them about race, and one in speech in particular that stands out.

And, now for his policies, which have not done much to advance racial justice:

And then there is the attitudinal research.

In a poll from January, 2015 by Al Jazeera America and Monmouth University, researchers asked respondents about about “race relations” found just 15% say they’ve improved since Obama was elected, while nearly half say they believe that race relations in the United States have gotten worse since 2008.

Race Relations Bar Graph

 

 

And, a 2012 poll by the Associated Press found an increase in racist attitudes — or, I should say, an increased willingness to express racist attitudes — among people in the U.S. that they surveyed. This short video (3:40) from Al Jazeera discusses the findings:

Perhaps the point that Rebecca made is the relevant one here: that HRC and Obama are cut from the same cloth and we can expect about the same progress on racial justice under her that we’ve had under him, which is to say, not much. The larger point is that politicians will follow where the people lead and it’s up to us to lead with our activism and holding them accountable.

Hillary Clinton: Good for White Feminism, Bad for Racial Justice

 

 

 

 

Today in New York City, Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that she is officially a candidate for the 2016 presidential campaign. While many people are excited about the prospect of the first woman president, I think that a Hillary Clinton presidency will be another in a long series of triumphs for white, corporate feminism and defeats for racial justice.

Hillary R. Clinton announcing 2016 presidential bid on YouTube

 

Clinton’s announcement with the “Getting Started” video on YouTube  features people facing new beginnings — a couple getting ready for a baby, a stay-at-home mom about to return to work, two men getting married  — “everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion,” Clinton assures us. For some on the left, this ad signals her “feminist family values”.  A group of feminist academics and writers has formed Feminists for Clinton to support her candidacy and the National Organization for Women (NOW) endorsed her in 2008, and I assume that endorsement will hold for 2016.

For her part, noted feminist Gloria Steinem said (in 2008) that she supported Clinton over Barack Obama because, “Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women…”

But what’s missing from the hagiography of Clinton superfans is any recognition or critique of her corporate-themed white feminism and the deleterious consequences this could have for black and brown people in the US and globally.

 

Art for Resisting Hillary Clinton

(Image source)

Here’s a very incomplete, yet still telling, run-down on Clinton’s résumé to date:

  • Despite trumpeting her work on behalf of “mothers and children,” she and her husband worked to reduce federal assistance to women and children living in poverty. In her book, Living History, Clinton touts her role: “By the time Bill and I left the White House, welfare rolls had dropped 60 percent.”  This 60% drop was not due to a 60% decrease in poverty. Instead, it was a reduction in federal benefits to those living in poverty, many of them working poor, like those employed at Wal-Mart.
  • Clinton sat on the board of Wal-Mart between 1986 and 1992, where she says she learned a lot from Sam Walton, and she remained silent while the corporation fought the unionization of its workers.
  • In Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, she notes that it was Hillary Clinton who lobbied Congress to expand the drug war and mass incarceration in ways that we continue to live with today, and that have a significantly more harmful impact on black and brown people than white people. According to The Drug Policy Alliance, people of color are much more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, harshly sentenced and saddled with a lifelong criminal record due to being unfairly targeted for drug law violations. Even though white people and people of color use drugs at about the same rates, it is black and brown people’s bodies that continue to fuel the machine of mass incarceration.
  • As Secretary of State, Clinton left a legacy that included both a hawkish inclination to recommend the use of military force coupled with  “turning the state department into a machine for promoting U.S. business.”  This does not bode well for black and brown people in other parts of the world, since the US is not likely to attack Western Europe under a (second) Clinton presidency, but some region of the world with people who do not have light-colored skin tones.

As I’ve noted in the trouble with white feminism series here, this form of feminism has a long history here in the US and within colonialism. To the extent that Hillary Clinton’s ascendancy is consistent with her record to date, and with the record of white feminism to date, this is very bad news, indeed, for black and brown people the world over. As I said, this is an incomplete recap of what Hillary Clinton has given the world so far under the guise of feminism. For a more thorough recounting, see this and this and this.

While I realize that Hillary Clinton has been the target of many sexist attacks, and, likely, will be again in this campaign, I do not think that these attacks should require anyone to support her out of some sort of misguided idea about feminist loyalty.  As Young & Becerra observe:

“A more robust vision of feminism doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t defend women like Hillary Clinton against sexist attacks: we should, just as we defend Barack Obama against racist ones. But it does mean that we must listen to the voices of the most marginalized women and gender and sexual minorities — many of whom are extremely critical of Clintonite feminism — and act in solidarity with movements that seek equity in all realms of life and for all people.  These are the feminists not invited to the Hillary Clinton party, except perhaps to serve and clean up.”

It’s going to be a long, long road to November, 2016. Ready for Hillary, with the side-eye.

Little Girl Gives Side-Eye to Hillary Clinton

(Image via Cherrell Brownsupport Cherrell!)

 

 <<<Read the previous post in the series

 

 

Municipal “Violations” as Racial and Class Injustice

Municipal violation you say? Such a lofty term, but to many it simply translates to a heedless financial hassle. Many of us have received parking and/or speeding tickets in our past. I myself have racked up my share as a lead-footed and non-paying-metered teen and college student.

Boring topic, right? But when one begins to peel the layers back, they encounter a metaphoric fetid smell surrounding an intricate topic of injustice, judicial misappropriation, and economic subjugation concerning the poor. For many with the monetary means and legal resources, a hit to the bank account and possibly some time with your attorney is procurable. But for a certain segment of the U.S. population that continue to be overlooked (with the exception of amusing attempts during presidential elections) due to their economic status or racial makeup, these so-called small municipal violations can lead to dire financial and criminal consequences.

Case in point, the findings of the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the week of March 5th. They revealed that the city council of Ferguson, Missouri was successful at maximized their city fiscal revenue by urging the local police department to issue more tickets for minor offenses. With very little applicability toward the ultimate goal of ensuring public safety, Ferguson police not only habitually, but competitively amongst themselves conducted traffic stops and issued citations. The DOJ report went as far to state that,

“‘Issuing three or four charges in one stop is not uncommon. Officers sometimes write six, eight, or, in at least one instance, fourteen citations for a single encounter.”

The moral and legal corruption did not stop with the police department and city council. The DOJ described how municipal court judges are influenced by their appointed city council members to generate revenue from the bench as well. In fact, their job performance is partly based on their abilities to financial generation proceeds to the city’s coffers.

An internal report in 2011 noted that regardless of municipal judge Ronald Brockmeyer’s failure to perform justly (i.e., not listening to testimony, reviewing relevant reports/criminal records of defendants, or allowing relevant witnesses appear for testimony before issuing a verdict), a requested reappointment was denied due to his illustrated previous ability to contribute to the city revenue from the bench. Further, the report stated:

“…it goes without saying the City cannot afford to lose any efficiency in our Courts, nor experience any decrease in our Fines and Forfeitures.”

The impact of said findings are even more pronounced when accounting for population trends. In 2013, Ferguson, a city with a population of 21,135 citizens issued approximately 32,975 arrests warrants. These warrants were issued for people mostly accused of non-violent driving violations, parking tickets, and housing code intrusions. In 2012, the city of collected 2.6 million dollars in municipal court fines and fees. Racially, statistics indicate that Blacks are disproportionately affected. Respectively, it has been shown that 86 percent and 12.7 percent of Black and White motorist were stopped. This is astounding when one recognizes that the population of Blacks and Whites are 67 and 29 percent respectively. In addition, In regard to traffic stops, Blacks citizens are stopped, searched, and arrested approximately two times more than their White counterparts.

Since there are no public defenders assigned to municipal courts, many of the 22 percent living below the poverty line who may have been on the wrong side of luck and consequentially arrested for frivolous traffic accounts, do not have access to free, and definitely not paid legal representation. Due to their inability to pay court fines, many defendants perform the “Curly Shuffle” and avoid court. Even if they did happen to appear, employees of the court have reported that hearings have a likelihood of beginning 30 minutes before their designated time. Doors are often locked at least 5 minutes before the official time began. This sort of court supervised shell game leads to additional charges mounting for those appearing before the court.

But do not worry; there is help. But this type of assistance comes with an unadorned high price. But this is not uncommon in our nation. As always, there are parasites falsely disguised as saviors who prey on the weak and suffering. Unscrupulous companies such as Judicial Correction Services (JCS) and Sentinel Offenders Services are blindly used by the judicial system to subjugate countless people living in poverty. If you are unfamiliar with the scheme, here is how it goes:

Let’s say you received a speeding ticket in Alabama for driving less than 25 miles over the posted limit. The actual fee and cost of the ticket is 20 and 162 dollars respectively. This brings you to a whopping total of 182 “American dollars (insert verbal emphasis).” But do not forget you are working two part-time jobs and attempting to provide for your family alone. It is hard enough simply keeping the lights on and some food in your baby’s belly. You try, but ultimately you cannot pay the total cost of fines and cost of the speeding violation.

The city in which you live then puts you on “pay-only” probation. The state of probation is not to ensure that you are avoiding the bad elements of street or drug life. It is merely a form of probation that is in place to make sure the state collects that cash money (ex. Any fines, fees and associated court costs). But in order for this to occur, you must first pay a fee of 10 dollars to be enrolled in the probation (set up fee). Once enrolled, your new monthly obligation is to visit (regardless of your employment obligations) your local JCS to pay 140 dollars. The problem is, a place such as JCS pockets 40 dollars. But you find yourself now falling behind on your payments. Additional fees are accrued alongside your standing debt. All of which prolongs your involvement in the court system. This is how these for-profit companies get their take. Slowly but surely, you find yourself sinking more and more into that all too familiar financial pit of misery. A bothersome, but easily dealt with obligation for the financially able, is a heavy yoke not easily removed from the neck of the poor.

In response to such practices, advocacy and social justice groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have begun to fight for the marginalized. On behalf of Roxanne Reynolds, a federal lawsuit was filed on March 12, 2015 accusing JCS of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act due to their effort to extort funds from economically poor citizens of Alabama who fell behind on their payment plan. To coerce people, JCS used the threat of jail (debtors’ prison) to force people to continue with their payments. Attorney for SPLC stated that through court manipulation, places such as JCS have created a “two-tiered system of justice.” One tier houses those who can afford to pay and quickly settle all financial obligations. The other is occupied with those without the means who get entombed for months and possibly years in their system. ” In regards to Mrs. Reynolds, SPLC stated:

Reynolds earned very little on an assembly line making automobile parts. Plus, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had to miss three months of work. When she fell behind on her payments, a JCS employee threatened her with jail. She did everything she could to pay. She ignored her mounting medical and utility bills. Once, she barely ate for a week. She was terrified about what would happen to her health in jail…Last year, Reynolds was finally able to pay off her debt – after 15 months and a four-day stint in jail.

Similar lawsuits have been filed throughout Alabama and Georgia. In Georgia for example, companies such as Sentinel Offender Services were extending “pay only” probation periods when citizens were unable to pay their costs. Further, in Sentinel Offender Services, LLC., v. Glover et al, (S14A1033 and S14X1036 et al., 2012, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously ruled that municipal courts cannot “legally lengthen a person’s misdemeanor sentence beyond what was originally ordered by the sentencing court.” In fact, the Court declared that probation companies do not have the authority to “put fee collections on hold–a practice called tolling–or extend a probation sentence.” There is a maximum sentence of twelve months for a misdemeanor conviction.

Now that I am thinking, this practice seems very familiar. Oh yes, white America has a funny way of revising its racial practices of oppression to fit with the times. If we look back throughout the American history books, one would stumble upon a period from the end of the Civil War until World War II were Blacks, especially Black males were forced into a state of compulsory slavery in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia. In the eyes of Pulitzer Prize recipient Douglas Blackmon, these poor Blacks were seen to be involved in the practice of human labor trafficking. They were essentially sold to White owners of labor farms, timber mills, pine tar companies, and coal and road construction operations. These men were often physically and emotionally abused. Before being imprisoned, these men were initially jailed on trumped-up charges by paid off law enforcement officials (on the take of wealthy owners and compensated for their collection of Blacks). Once appearing before court, these kidnapped men were ordered to pay overpriced court costs or fines that resulted from their false charges. If they we unable to pay in court, local law officials gave them to rich land and business owners for as low as 25 dollars. Once the men were traded, they were told that they could not leave their employer until their debt was paid in full. Of course, this almost never occurred. Not only state, but also federal bodies of government knew of this practice. This custom continued in some form or fashion until the 1960s (Counter to Blackmon’s claim that it ended after WWII).

History does truly repeat itself. Again and Again, and . . . . . .

Muslims and Racialization: A Response to Foner

This year’s presidential keynote lecture at the Eastern Sociological Society’s annual conference was given by Nancy Foner, Distinguished Professor of Sociology (CUNY). The conference theme was “Crossing Borders,” and Foner took up the question of whether or not Islam in Europe is similar to race in the United States.

Nancy Foner ESS Presidential Address

(Image source)

As a scholar who studies the racialization of Muslims in the United States, I was eager to hear what she had to say given her expertise as an immigration scholar. In my work, I argue that in a post-9/11 society we need to examine the experiences of Muslims as racial in nature.

This requires scholars to come up with newer ways to examine race that reflect the political, cultural and economic contexts within which we live in. Fortunately a growing number of scholars are doing the work of re-theorizing race, reflecting the fact that race shifts over time and is fluid rather than a static/rigid concept. For example, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva argues in his Latin Americanization Thesis (pdf) that the United States has moved from a bi-racial system to a tri-racial one.

Bonilla-Silva argues that due to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the racial classification has changed in the United States from a black and white one to one that includes collective blacks, honorary whites and whites. This framework makes space for an understanding of how various racial and ethnic groups experience race and racism differentially due to a myriad of factors aside from just skin tone, delving into the complexities of race in the United States.

Unfortunately, Nancy Foner’s analysis of European Muslims to “color-coded” race in the United States did not provide that complex analysis of race required to understand the connection of immigration and religion to race. Instead, Foner’s talk highlighted how race is perceived in the United States. Many people, including scholars, think race is limited to skin tone.

The need to equate someone’s racial experience with African-Americans limits an understanding of race to a black and white paradigm. It ignores the intersecting factors that contribute to the social construction of racialized identities, such as language, clothing, nation of origin and religion. It also assumes racial experiences do not change over time. For example, African Americans’ experiences with racism have changed over time, partially due to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While we do not live in a post-racial society, as some may claim, racism has changed over time. Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow examines how mass incarceration is a new system of oppression that strips African-American men of their basic rights. By chronicling laws and policies put in place that have resulted in the hyper-incarceration of African American men, she finds the system of Jim Crow is still alive and well. Racial projects shift and change over time.

In a similar way, anti-Muslim sentiments and Islamophobia has shifted over time, particularly since 9/11. Anti-Muslim sentiments spiked immediately after 9/11 and then declined. But in the decade since 9/11 public opinion toward Muslims has increasingly gotten worse, especially with the continuous coverage in the media of Muslims as terrorists.

Muslim experiences with racism must be understood within the context of 9/11 and the War on Terror. In a post-9/11, discrimination against Muslims has risen in the United States. A Muslim religious identity has become racialized as a threat to national security and as a consequence they are subjected to increased surveillance and are denied the privileges with citizenship. For example, policies like the National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS) required non-citizen men aged 16 and over to register with the state. Out of the 25 countries on this list, 24 are Muslim majority. Although this policy has been deactivated, its impact on Muslim immigrants lingers.

Anti- Muslim sentiments do not just impact immigrants. Muslim Americans are also treated as suspect. They have been repeatedly stripped of their civil rights privileges associated with citizenship such as being viewed and treated like loyal members of society. Instead they are treated as a threat to national security and endure hyper surveillance in places like U.S. airports.

Nancy Foner has written that in the United States religion provides a pathway to integration for new immigrants while in Europe it can be a barrier. She and her co-author argue for Hindus in the United States, religious spaces have provided new immigrants with access to certain resources, such as language instruction and assistance with jobs creating a path to Americanization. In countries like France, Islam is treated as a barrier to integration. But while Muslims in France face harsher forms of discrimination through policies that prohibit their religious practices in public spaces, this does not mean that Muslims in the United States are exempt from racial experiences. In this new era of the War on Terror where the United States is increasingly becoming a surveillance society, Islamic religious institutions have become a site of surveillance rather than a path to integration into the American landscape. Life for Muslims in the United States has changed drastically due to a changing political structure that is hyper concerned with security both internationally and domestically. As a result, the state has contributed to the social construction of a Muslim enemy resulting in Muslim bodies being racialized as a threat to national security and are treated as such.

Vilna Bashi Treitler makes a persuasive argument in “Social Agency and White Supremacy in Immigration Studies,” that immigration scholars fail to ignore the structural constraints immigrants face in society and offers racialization as a better model than assimilation to understand the immigrant experience. Treitler’s article highlights how integration is not always possible due to structures that are racialized and reject certain groups from gaining access to resources. This study provides a much-needed response to immigration scholars who fail to understand the restrictions and barriers faced by immigrants due to structures that are racialized.

So, even though one immigrant group may enjoy access to financial resources, this does not mean they avoid racism all together. Furthermore, racism needs to be understood contextually. Japanese experiences with racism differed during internment due to World War II than they do today. In a similar fashion, Muslims are increasingly experiencing more prejudice and discrimination due to their religious identity than they have in the past. Finally, not all racisms are equal. Experiences with racism and its impact are varied. In other words, racism is fluid.

Nancy Foner’s keynote address created a space for more discussion around religion, immigration and race. While I do not argue Muslim has become a new race, their religious identities have acquired racial meanings associating their bodies with terror and violence resulting in their increased experiences with racism. There is much room for debate and discussion around these ideas and hopefully scholars of race will start to engage with the complexities of race as it relates to religion, immigration and gender rather than compartmentalizing each one.

 

~ Guest blogger Saher Selod is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Simmons College

On the White Jesus: No Evidence to Support the Popular Image

The Jesus in the Bible could not have resembled the white Jesus figures as shown in these images:

Jesus Portriat Smiling Body Builder Jesus Mormon Romance Novel Jesus

(Image sources, left to right: Image left, Image center, Image right.)

Such images reflect what we would like to suggest, nothing more than grossly misled white imaginations—at least within an honest historical and scholarly context. While nobody knows what Jesus actually “looked” like, he was most definitely was not a white guy.

Why is this important?

After all, everybody has the right to imagine Jesus in any way they wish. True.

But such choices are largely removed when people are socialized into religious teachings that assert he was white. Such socialization and teachings use distorted imagery to support their lessons and reinforce their belief systems. While such images as those above may seem relatively harmless, they are actually quite harmful in terms of encouraging and perpetuating a very racist understanding of both religion and history.

The oldest known images of Jesus from Syria in approximately 235 A.D. (image on the left below) and the Catacombs of Rome in the 3rd Century A.D. (image on the right) show him as having brown skin of African-Middle Eastern descent:

Oldest Known Image of Mary Jesus Syria 235 Jesus Catacombs of Rome 3rd Cent

(Image, left, is the oldest known depiction of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus in the Cacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria in Rome 150 C.E. est; the image, center, is from Syria 235 A.D. est.; the image, right, from the Catacombs of Rome 3rd Century A.D.).

 

Christian followers themselves represent people of all skin shades, hair textures, and eye colors, yet, regardless of their group characteristics, different cultures throughout the world have generated images of Jesus and his mother that reflect their own group features and characteristics. However, in western society, the diversity of imagery severely lacks and is often limited to presentations of a white Jesus and white mother Mary where applicable. In mainstream western societies, Christians of color have been largely forced to encounter images that resemble the characteristics of the dominant group. Presentations of the light skinned Westernized non-Semitic deity is not unique to the U.S. as it goes back hundreds of centuries well illustrated with the images below, both estimated to have been created during the 6th Century:

Christ the Emperor 500 Early White Mary

(Image source leftImage source right)

Given that Christians believe Jesus was presented in God’s image, any imagery can be powerful in subtly influencing the followers in gendered and racialized ways. In U.S. society, since white Protestantism is dominant and Jesus is often presented as a white male figure, even if subconsciously, white males may be able to assume they were created in God’s image.

Where does this leave Christians of color, at least within the context of the white Christianity’s of the past and present?

Of further importance with whiteness and Protestantism is the fundamental disregard for the divine significance of Jesus’ mother, Mary, within the religious context. These gendered and racialized theological modifications reflect significant religious departures from the earlier Christianity. For example, much of the earliest arts included Mary holding baby Jesus. While including Mary, still problematic with the early art as shown above is the racial and ethnic misrepresentation of both Jesus and Mary in an accurate historical context (religious or not). Nevertheless, this shift served to necessarily exclude divine inclusion of all females, regardless of color, resulting in the worship and relevance of only a male figure and male god. This shift served to only further reinforce the gendered “maleness” and masculine perceptions of God leaving females without any significant divine female figures to admire and include in their belief systems for worship. So here, the issues are related to both race and ethnicity, and gender.

For Christians of color, even if the gendered issues mentioned above do not apply, whiteness is still problematic for non-Protestant Christian traditions that do extend divine significance to his mother and related figures, as with Catholics. For example, regardless of what color and ethnicity you may be, when purchasing prayer candles likely you will encounter the limited and exclusive racial imagery as shown below:

Prayer Candles Blonde Hair Blue Eyed Jesus

Many people who are socialized with this imagery from birth do not question the visual accuracy of their deity for a variety of reasons (fears of being sacrilegious, placing all faith in to the church or pastor/leader as providing the true instruction on the infallible word of god, lacking the basic ability to question otherwise as a result of being socialized in a world where all major religious and non-religious institutions are dominated by whites, etc.). The white Jesus then, is too often blindly reinforced and internalized with every encounter of such images, and perhaps even more so when various spiritual rituals are carried out with items that are pictured with the white Jesus, white Mother Mary, white Saints, and so on.

At least in the U.S., rarely (in ever) are options available for the followers to purchase candles and other religious paraphernalia that sport images of Jesus with a more accurate historical and geographical representation or even various non-white cultural images that have been created throughout world . For example, what would more historically accurate images look like? Given the region, they would range between something as those shown below:

tumblr_inline_nhdsi4OYxR1qkqzlv Christ Black Jesus

(Image source left; Image source center; Image source right)

Given the historical locations Jesus was said to live are not disputed by most religious groups (whether they believe in Jesus or not) and scholars, how then, did Western society move from a darker Jesus to a very white, and even Americanized Jesus—especially in the U.S.?

Christianity is somewhat complicated because in some traditions, they hold Jesus as Jewish and within the correct historical and geographical location (though with images that reflect a white guy) while in others, particularly some Protestant groups and non-Protestant groups as with the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, they have removed his Semitic significance in history as a Jew, going so far as to suggest he was Aryan or Anglo. Some of these groups have gone so far as to even suggest that the “real Jews” and even “Native Americans” are Aryan or white American and/or Anglo, coupled with mild to extremely modified narratives or interpretations of the Gospels, or through added writings and books said to be written by later prophets. Here, the divine purity only eludes to a white non-Semitic male figure existing outside the historical context in which the Christian theology was originated from.

The problem being addressed here has not to do with the Freedom of Religion, as religious freedom should be a fundamental right for all people. New religions are created all the time with old ones modified. But here the issue is with the racism and sexism that is generated, continuously reproduced, and reinforced through the inaccurate and misleading presentations and beliefs associated with the Semitic Jesus referenced in the Holy Bible. Of concern here is not whether Jesus existed or not, whether he was the Christ and so on, but again, very specifically with the racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism deeply embedded in the religious beliefs and practices.

These white theologies and narratives are so powerful and exclusive that it can be impossible for the theological white racial frame to unite with the theological counter-frames of color in existence and reconcile (see clip of Sean Hannity and Dr. Jeremiah Wright). At times when the theological white racial frame collides with theological counter-frames of color; the white theological frame turns theological counter-framed concepts into inherently racist rhetoric reinforcing various types of racism, such as colorblind racism with this example. This serves to reinforce white Christian theology and ultimately white supremacy.

Some ways to challenge this type of racism and sexism channeled through white theology we are referring to here, is through education that reflects the works of interdisciplinary scholars who have studied Jesus in History, encourage comparative religious studies to be included in general education courses for all students regardless of race and ethnicity, religion, etc. (this would also help minimize things as anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia, etc. ), make available more diverse images of Jesus—particularly the darker skinned conceptions of Jesus, Mary, etc. that more accurately reflect the historical and geographical context of Jesus in history—particularly on items purchases for ritualistic purposes, as with prayer candles. Because many people like to display images of Jesus and the related in their homes, automobiles, and so on, alternative imagery also needs to be made available.

Lastly, because Protestantism is the dominant religion of the U.S., American society needs to place significant respect and value in Black Theology—a rich religious tradition born out of white oppression, as well as other religious traditions that operate out of anti-racist and anti-oppressive religious counter-frames. Such antiracist and anti-oppressive shifts would do much to help our society value and embrace genuine multiculturalism, tolerance of differences in values and beliefs, and work towards honest equality for all people regardless of color, sex, gender, orientation, etc. Such moves would more closely reflect the Jewish religious reformer worshipped by so many, who was said to both preach and practice the genuine love and inclusion of all people—not just “some.”

~ Athena Griffin and Joe Feagin

Reclaiming Holy Week for Racial Justice

Tonight, like so many other folks, I’ll be going to religious services to mark the start of Holy Week. Good Friday, the day in the christian tradition that Jesus was crucified. And for me, this is a day about racial justice.

At my multi-racial, queer, urban church steeped in liberation theology, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson are patron saints, and Good Friday is when we mark the stations of the cross by remembering those who have died as the result of hate crimes and police violence. This inevitably results in a Big Ugly Cry for me, and I will be bringing extra tissues.

It’s a risky thing for an academic to admit having a spiritual life or a religious affiliation, but I mention it here because I think it’s important for people to know that it’s possible to be an intellectual and have a spiritual practice. I also think that we – on the academic, lefty-liberal side of the political spectrum – have ceded conversations about faith to the far-right in the U.S., and that’s at least in part, driven the culture wars.

To be clear, I don’t believe in the made-up white supremacist Jesus that Britney Cooper recently took down so well. For me, Jesus was a marginal character who was outside the power structure in every way. He was down with call-out culture long before social media and called out the Pharisees about their hypocrisy, flipped some tables and staged some protests against the 1% of his day. Ultimately, he was killed for pointing out there was injustice and that some people were benefitting from it. For me, the only kind of prayer I believe in is praying with your feet in a protest march. My decidedly not-mainstream beliefs are rooted in liberation theology.

Radical liberation theology is a theology that proposes that knowledge of God based on revelation leads necessarily to a practice that opposes unjust social and political structures.  When you include this with a specific critique of racial injustice, then you come to what Professor James Cone has called black liberation theology. When Good Friday comes each year, I think of Cone’s book The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis, 2011) in which he focuses on “the Christianization of lynching” as a means of social and political control.

Cross and the Lynching Tree book cover

Not unlike the way Michael Brown’s murdered body was left on display for hours in the hot August sun, the public torture and execution of black bodies were carried out by ‘good Christian folk’ who created spectacles of these killings. It is no coincidence that most of the lynchings from the late 19th to mid-20th century occurred in the Bible Belt, as white supremacy and a particular kind of white Christian identity became linked.

Cone’s challenge to his readers is this:  How do we bear witness to the power of life in the midst of a world awash in violence, lethal inequity and the impoverishment of bodies and souls? How do we celebrate life without being oblivious of those suffering on the cross or a tree?

This year, there’s a national call to action that in many ways, is a response to Cone’s challenge. The call is to make this year a Holy Week of Resistance that will:

“contribute to the manifest liberation struggles of all Oppressed Persons, beginning with Black and Brown Peoples. The love and justice ethic of an unarmed Palestinian Jew named Jesus—who was wrongfully convicted and publicly executed by the empire—spurs us to resist state violence that targets Black and Brown lives today.”

 

The conversation about this call to action is happening, in large part, via a Twitter hashtag #ReclaimHolyWeek.There are several street actions, including two in New York City this afternoon – one at Union Square, the other at One Police Plaza.

An organizer of #ReclaimHolyWeek, Jorge Juan Rodriguez V, explains some of the rationale behind this effort:

Every 28 hours police murder a Black body without any consequence for the killer and yet we who celebrate Palm Sunday continue talking about palms instead of protest. Along the United States-Mexico border countless children are detained, women raped, and individuals killed by border patrol without any record of injustice and yet those of us who celebrate the Last Supper continue raising our forks instead of our fists. In the last four years our government has launched more drone strikes than ever in the history of this country, killing hundreds of innocents, and yet those of us who celebrate Good Friday continue singing hymns instead of halting traffic on the streets. Over the last two years progress achieved on voting rights has been almost completely repealed and yet those of us who celebrate Easter continue searching for eggs instead of equality. We of faith cannot continue to be distracted by the injustice that occurs around us and cater the message of Holy Week to serve of our comfortable living.

As Mavis Staples, sings “my god is a freedom god…”

May your holy week be filled with justice and peace.